2010 Lexus HS 250h
2010 Lexus HS 250h. Click image to enlarge
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First Drive: 2010 Lexus HS 250h
Test Drive: 2010 Lexus HS 250h

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2010 Lexus HS 250h

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By Haney Louka; photos by Greg Wilson

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2010 Lexus HS 250h

Winnipeg, Manitoba – I’ve spent the winter behind the wheel of the Lexus HS 250h hybrid sedan, focusing on how well the hybrid system works in our frigid Canadian clime – but how about the rest of the car? How well does it compete against other sedans in the $40 to 50K snack bracket? The short answer is that it depends on what you’re looking for. When we began this series, I introduced you to the idea that Lexus is trying to change the definition of luxury, adding “conscience” into the mix. Lexus found that 60 per cent of their entry-luxury customers (those looking at the IS- and ES-series cars) want to see a hybrid option in this market segment.

When viewed as the mainstream luxury entry that Lexus aspires the HS to be, though, it begins to lose its appeal pretty quickly. Let’s start with the styling: the HS possesses neither the sleek silhouette of a luxury car nor the tautly stretched sheetmetal of a sports sedan. Rather, its shape in profile bears an unfortunate resemblance to parent company Toyota’s Corolla compact sedan, a car that can be had for less than half of the HS’s price tag. To be sure, the HS is much more than a tarted-up Corolla. It’s taller, longer, wider, and rides on a longer wheelbase than the Corolla, so that’s where the comparison ends. To borrow a word from the Lexus marketing handbook, the styling does have its “moments” from certain angles but my bet is that most owners don’t want to shell out more than 40 grand only to have the identity of their ride mistaken for that of an economy car.

2010 Lexus HS 250h
2010 Lexus HS 250h. Click image to enlarge

And then there’s the driving dynamics. On the plus side, the HS is a quiet vehicle and its engine is quite smooth: it’s sometimes difficult to tell whether the engine is actually running. But in terms of ride quality I found that the car never quite settles down on less-than-perfect surfaces; again, it goes down the road like a much less expensive car. This may be partially attributed to the sport suspension fitted to our tester, but we need to be careful not to confuse a jittery ride with sportiness. Steering and throttle response are similarly unsatisfying for this class.

The car also has its quirks, particularly in the area of braking feel. The Lexus HS was included in Toyota’s recall that primarily involved third-generation Prius models, but the HS exhibits the same inconsistent feel that has been reported by Prius owners. It typically happens during moderate deceleration when the anti-lock brakes are engaged; anyone that has approached an icy four-way-stop intersection can relate to this scenario. As soon as the ABS system engages, the car responds as though the brake pedal was partially released, even under constant pressure from the driver’s right foot. My first instinct at that point is to immediately increase braking pressure, and all is well.

Notwithstanding Toyota’s other woes, it’s important to note that hybrids have always had what I would consider inconsistent braking feel because of the requirement for a regenerative braking system to recharge the car’s batteries. While the issues have typically been that it’s a challenge to stop smoothly with such a system, this time around it’s a bit more disconcerting, although at no point did it feel like the car was going to have trouble stopping.

2010 Lexus HS 250h
2010 Lexus HS 250h
2010 Lexus HS 250h
2010 Lexus HS 250h. Click image to enlarge

There are a few other quirks that are a result of designers just trying too hard to incorporate features that they think will help but actually end up just being annoying. For example, I frequently turn off the traction control when I’m driving in deep snow because a little bit of wheelspin is often beneficial (or even required) to get or keep things moving. The only problem is that the system automatically resumes traction-control duties at 50 km/h so I found myself having to push the button at every intersection. There’s also the car’s refusal to lock if the sunroof is tilted up. Not sure about that one.

And finally, the presence of the battery bank between the trunk and rear seat eats up cargo space and precludes any sort of a pass-through or foldable rear seat. The result: 343 litres of trunk volume, which is firmly in compact-car territory.

As far as competitors go, two similarly-priced entry-luxury vehicles come to mind; cars that are far more engaging to drive yet will still satisfy those looking to mitigate their impact on the environment. The Acura TSX (starting at $34,885) is propelled by a conventional gasoline engine that is at once eager and fairly frugal, with EnerGuide ratings of 9.6 L/100 km in the city and 6.5 on the highway.

Then there’s the new-for-2010 diesel-powered Audi A3 TDI ($35,300) that has only 140 hp but a stump-pulling 236 lb-ft of torque. It’s rated at 6.7 L/100 km in the city and 4.6 on the highway. It plays the requisite luxury role just fine, thanks to upscale styling and premium interior materials and design. It doesn’t hurt that it’s a hatchback either.

The HS is a unique entry in a crowded field of competitors. It can handle our winter just fine even though real-world fuel consumption numbers are much higher than official ratings would suggest. However, there are better choices for those who like to stay more involved in the driving experience.

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